Wolves in Drag

Leftist flyer. Nazareth, June 2013.

Single-state advocates may have a surprising new ally. Likud legislator Tzipi Hotovely believes that the two-state solution is dead, and that Israel should annex the West Bank, granting citizenship to its Palestinian residents. Hotovely, the Deputy Minister of Transportation, is a rising star in her party. While her extremist views are not typical of Likud,  her one-state solution is becoming popular amongst Israeli conservatives.

At a conference marking twenty years of the Oslo Peace Process, Hotovely proposed her idea of annexation. It was an interesting location for make such a pitch, obviously. To be expected, the conference’s speakers list was dominated by supporters of Oslo, past and present. Those who continue to cling to the failed hope of a two-state solution would do well to heed the title of the parliamentarian’s panel: Reflections on Oslo and New Ideas for a Future Solution.

They should also note that it is Hotovely and fellow travelers like fellow cabinet member Naftali Bennett who are coming up with these alternatives to Oslo. Center-left politicans are not. Of course, the similarity between Hotovely’s idea and that of Palestinian one-staters and their supporters ends with the notion of citizenship with the Palestinians of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Still, it is a bold idea in its own horrifying way; far bolder than anything so-called peaceniks are coming up with.

Hotovely expanded on her view in an interview with the far right Israeli news network, Arutz 7. One of the more interesting points she makes is why, in her view, the two-state solution, which she does not accept in any case, failed: “Currently [the world] wastes all its money and resources on a failed solution, because there is no Palestinian willingness to give up Jerusalem or the ‘right of return’.” So the stumbling block is not security, Palestinians’ “hatred” of Jews or a willingness to endure generations of suffering just to “drive the Jews into the sea” that is the problem. It is because the Palestinians refuse to abandon Jerusalem completely and refuse to abandon the issue of the millions of Palestinian refugees scattered all over the Middle East and, indeed, the globe. If only more Israelis were as candid.

Hotovely’s proposal begins with the plan Religious Affairs Minister Naftali Bennett, the leader of the powerful HaBayit HaYehudi (Jewish Home) party has put forth. Bennett proposes that Israel annex all of Area C, which is home to almost all Jewish settlers but only 50-100,000 Palestinians. Hotovely wants that to be a first step, a signal to the world that Israel is going to annex the whole of the West Bank. She believes that the world will accept this as a solution, and be relieved to see one.

Of course, this plan cannot work, at least not if peace or the security of Israelis is the goal. Hotovely’s plan assumes that the Gaza Strip can become an Egyptian responsibility. The Gazans and the Egyptians are not at all interested in this idea, but in the far right mode of thought, their views don’t matter. The plan also wrongly assumes that the refugee issue will go away when West Bank Palestinians are Israeli citizens. Above all, it would be a unilateral Israeli decision imposed on a select group of Palestinians. That’s obviously a recipe for disaster.

Bilingual storefront. Nazareth June 2013.
Bilingual storefront. Nazareth, June 2013.

Hotovely’s plan is not politically feasible in Israel at this time. What’s more interesting is why Hotovely believes this is the best course for Israel: “We need to understand that every decision has a price, and therefore if we do not adopt the annexation plan, we will pay the price through pressure and boycotts of Israel and Judea and Samaria.” In that calculation, Hotovely proposes that the price of two million more Palestinian voters in Israel is less than the price of the growing international isolation it is facing.

As welcome as it might sound, the Likudnik’s pragmatism is still highly problematic. To this end, Hotevely has little use for Palestinian rights and Palestinian opinion,  particularly in matters concerning how their own future might best take shape. However, it’s to be expected. Hotovely remains a creature of the right, seeking to preserve the Occupation, albeit in a new form.

What’s more interesting is her emphasis upon “pressure and boycotts.” The fact that she would deign to acknowledge their threat, let alone their effectiveness, in such a manner, is incredibly revealing. While this falls short of a victory for activists promoting economic measures against Israel, they do have Israeli-Jewish extremists, like Hotovely, and even more mainstream Israeli and Jewish leaders running scared, considering substantial changes to Israel’s rule of the Palestinian Territories, based on the pressures they exert.

The only governmental boycott Israel is facing, or even being threatened by in the short term, is the Arab boycott, which has always been in place. Israel sometimes faces diplomatic pressure, but that is also something it has been confronted with regularly throughout its history. That pressure is not immediately threatening to rise to the point of having a measurable political or economic impact. This is coming from the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

When BDS forces started to coalesce a decade ago, I had (and still have) some serious political differences with them. But I also believed that, while it would be able to gather significant support, it would not be enough to press Israel into action. It would appear that assessment was in error. Israeli columnist Larry Derfner assembled a list of prominent pundits and analysts who are seeing a major and growing impact of that movement. None of those he lists support BDS. However, they are all very afraid of it.

The Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, an umbrella group for pretty much every pro-Israel US Jewish group, is embarking on a major grassroots and social media campaign to battle BDS. This is very unusual for CoPJ, which is generally more of a coordinator and clearing house than a down-and-dirty activist group. While its president, Malcolm Hoenlein, contends that the BDS movement is an “insignificant group,” one does not normally launch campaigns against insignificant forces.

The apoplectic reaction in Israel to Stephen Hawking’s decision to pull out of an Israeli conference is further evidence of the impact BDS is having there. Israeli business leaders are howling to the Israeli Prime Minister about the threat of boycotts. The attempt by some Israeli strategists at a more understated opposition to BDS would seem to have failed, and thus the counter-attacks are going to become more aggressive and blatant.

Some of that response is going to consist of new plans like Bennett’s and Hotovely’s. As long as progressives either don’t have plans of their own, or fail to get their ideas into a realpolitik playing field,  rightists will determine the discourse going forward. BDS does indeed seem to be having the impact its supporters originally wanted it to have. But what will it mean if the Palestinians remain divided, the Israelis retain the power on the ground, the United States continues to back objectionable Israeli policies, while the Arab League, EU, Russia and the UN all continue to cling to a dead Oslo plan?

Now is the time for those who really want a just peace, who believe that Israelis and Palestinians are entitled to the same rights, to demand that their politicians pursue a new framework. It matters little whether it’s one state or two, as long as it is a functional arrangement that is practical, and is, above all else, one that gives every Arab and Jew “from the river to the sea” fully equal civil, cultural and national rights. Nothing else is acceptable, irrespective of the ‘progress’ made by Israeli conservatives in recognizing the limits of the Oslo concept.


Photographs courtesy of Joel Schalit

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